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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 21, 1998
                          BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY 

The Briefing Room

12:23 A.M. EST

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On background. The President met this evening for about an hour and a half with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The Secretary of State and the National Security Adviser were present, and Mr. Naveh from the Prime Minister's office.

It was a very intensive discussion of the full range of issues that are involved in trying to restart the negotiations and particularly get to permanent status negotiations. I think it was a good discussion. I think we have a lot of work to do still.

The next step, obviously, is to take these issues up with Chairman Arafat when he arrives on Thursday. He arrives tomorrow, but we will meet with him on Thursday. And we will proceed from there.

Q The President -- if I understand the Post story correctly, is the President or the administration floating the idea of having these withdrawals that you expect Israel to carry out in smaller phases, matched by Palestinian gestures that Israel has been demanding. In other words, the same general --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll save you time, because I'm not going to comment on the substance of the negotiations.

Q Well, somebody certainly is, on background, giving this to the Post.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'd suggest you find out who it is and call him -- unless I find him first.

Q Did the Prime Minister move in any way --

Q Is it wrong, by the way? Will you --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I'm not going to deny it, I'm not going to confirm it.

Q Is the Prime Minister moving in any new direction tonight? Are you closer or is he closer to you than he was this morning?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to characterize this by proximity. I think it was a good discussion. I think there is a very clear understanding by Prime Minister Netanyahu of what the President believes is necessary to get these negotiations resumed. I think we have a good understanding from the Prime Minister of what he believes he can and can't do. And I think these were very useful discussions. But as I said, we have a considerable distance to go.

Q What was the purpose of the Prime Minister coming back tonight?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President invited the Prime Minister to come back today, at the earlier meeting. These are very, very complicated subjects. The President is deeply and intensely engaged in each of these areas. There are dozens of issues involved. And even though the meeting today lasted I guess a couple of hours, I think he felt it would be productive, and then Madeleine, and then Madeleine and Mr. Berger met with the Prime Minister this afternoon. And I think the President thought it would be useful to wrap up at the end of the day and see where we were as we head into the meetings with Chairman Arafat.

Q You sound disappointed.


Q Is that what you're trying to convey, or --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm trying to convey as little as possible, actually.

Q Did the meeting end --

Q Is the Prime Minister going to leave on schedule on Wednesday? Do you expect him to leave today as scheduled?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know what his schedule was. I don't think there will be any change in his schedule.

Q He's not going to stick around until Thursday?

Q It needs to be said that -- people in the administration would regularly say, look, we can coax the parties together to encourage the process, but we don't put forward substantive proposals about what the map on the ground looks like. Everything we've heard today, particularly from Madeleine earlier, it sounds like this is very much by way of substantive proposals that the President is offering. Could you comment on my observation there, if that sounds accurate? Are you putting forward principles, or are you putting forward maps?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're not talking about maps here, but there are basic issues that Madeleine discussed. There is the question of the further redeployment. There is the question of security cooperation. There is the question of the sequencing of all of this. And all of these involve -- what the President did in these discussions today was not only to listen, but based upon 12 months of shuttle diplomacy by the Secretary of State and by Ambassador Ross, I think we have a pretty good idea of what it's going to take to get these negotiations resumed.

And I think what the President was seeking to do was to convey to Prime Minister Netanyahu what we think it will take and to listen to his concerns and try to address them as best we could.

Q You said the President has a good idea now what Israel can do and cannot do --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, that's not what I said. I said I think we have, and the President has, a fair idea of what it will take, where the middle ground is here -- what it will take to get the Israelis and the Palestinians back into a permanent status negotiation.

Q Oh, I'm sorry. I thought I heard something entirely different, about you have a better understanding of what's conceivable for the Israelis to do -- what is it? My question was going to be, is that different from what Netanyahu told us publicly he can do and can't do?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not going to get into specific negotiating positions, or general. I think clearly Prime Minister Netanyahu, to the extent we outlined the proposal today or the President outlined a suggestion as to what he thought was necessary and Prime Minister Netanyahu felt that was not something he could do. He explained why and we tried to explain possible solutions to his concerns.

Q Does anything of what happened today constitute progress?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, I really don't want to try to characterize it. I think it was a good day. I think these were useful discussions. They were good discussions. But as I said earlier, we certainly still have problems to solve.

Q One last question, please. You said the President outlined his suggestions as to what he thought was necessary, and Netanyahu -- am I understanding you correctly -- said he could not do that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we obviously didn't reach closure. There's more than one issue here. There is a series of issues that Madeleine outlined earlier -- further redeployment, security steps by the Palestinians, and what the Israelis required, what would be the timetable here. At each of these issues -- and some issues we're closer than on others.

Q Did you reach agreement on anything concrete that will be presented to the Palestinians?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we will have, hopefully, good conversations with Chairman Arafat and in a similar vein discuss with him what we think is necessary and what his objectives are and what his concerns are and try to narrow this gap.

Q Is there anything that came out of the discussions --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The gap -- this has existed for now a year, it's not going to be closed in a night.

Q Anything that came out of this today that you will take to him, or will you be saying to him things you were already going to say to him?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that clearly what happened today and what we learned from Prime Minister Netanyahu will influence our conversations with Chairman Arafat.

Q A logistic question. Was the President's meeting tonight, was it continuous as far as his involvement, or was he called away from the meeting at any time?


Q And did it end before or after midnight?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It ended at five of 12:00 a.m.

Q Will he see him tomorrow, will they see each other again?


Q Where did the talks take place, in what room of the Residence?


END 12:32 A.M. EST